At Carve, competition squashed creatively

The line of carvers – encumbered with assorted boxes, baskets, totes and wheelbarrows containing the tools of their trade – started to form before the gates opened at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

An array of pumpkins await their creative fate at the Great Pumpkin Carve.

An array of pumpkins await their creative fate at the Great Pumpkin Carve.

Once inside the pumpkin patch, more than 70 competitors in the 2016 Great Pumpkin Carve found their assigned number and viewed their giant squash for the first time. Within minutes, the buzz of Dremels and the clanging of knives filled the air as the artists began a transformative process, painfully mindful of their 8 p.m. deadline.

The treasured tradition, a fundraiser for the CFHS, began in the early 1970s when Jimmy Lynch, a local resident and favorite Wyeth family model, convinced artists Andrew and Jamie Wyeth to carve pumpkins for decorations inside the Chadds Ford Inn, which is now the Brandywine Prime Restaurant at the Chadds Ford crossroads.

Since then, the event has evolved into a creative squash showcase and a revered fall ritual. The intricacy of the pumpkins’ designs, sometimes achieved with dental picks and frequently defying gravity, annually elicit awe from spectators.

Bill DeHaven takes a selfie with his pumpkin before he begins to dissect it.

Bill DeHaven takes a selfie with his pumpkin before he begins to dissect it.

Veteran carver and prize-winner Bill DeHaven, who was working with his brother-in-law Jason Wallace, breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his pumpkin: The shape worked well with the design he had pre-sketched. During about 13 years of entries, he said he sometimes had to change gears after confronting a squash incompatible with his vision.

With Kate Raffa watching, Anthony Gourdier wasted no time digging into their entry with a utensil aptly labeled a “super-goop scoop.” Raffa said despite years of effort, they never won, but it doesn’t matter. “We just come for the fun,” she said.

Nearby, the stakes were a bit higher. Michelle McDonald, whose fish garnered an award last year, began working on this year’s butterfly next to a competitor who happened to be her husband. And Joseph P. McDonald III said he was next to another relative. For nearly a decade, the McDonald dynasty has often included four competitors, they said, but this year one was unable to attend.

Michelle McDonald poses with her 3-year-old daughter, Fiona, who provides inspiration for her mother's designs.

Michelle McDonald poses with her 3-year-old daughter, Fiona, who provides inspiration for her mother's designs.

Michelle McDonald said the inspiration for her designs comes from their 3-year-old daughter, Fiona, whose love of Nemo prompted last year’s winner. Asked why she and her husband don’t collaborate, she paused before citing “artistic differences.” Her husband laughed. “That’s a good way to put it,” he said.

The rules specify that no more than four people can work on one pumpkin, and the use of embellishments other than the seeds and guts of the pumpkin make the final product eligible only for the People’s Choice Award, not the official judges’ selections, which range from “Best Overall” “to “Most Halloween.”

For April Margera, the owner of the Rose Hip Barn in Thornton, an eclectic venue for home furnishings, accessorizing is part of her DNA. She explained that she participates “just for fun,” and always enjoys bringing illicit enhancements for her giant vegetable.

Veteran carver April Margera, proprietor of the Rose Hip Barn, displays a cupcake made from a pumpkin to accent her "Tea Time at Rose Hip" theme.

Veteran carver April Margera, proprietor of the Rose Hip Barn, displays a cupcake made from a pumpkin to accent her "Tea Time at Rose Hip" theme.

“I’m going off the grid,” Margera joked, displaying some delectable-looking cupcakes crafted from small white pumpkins. They will complement her “Tea Party at Rose Hip” theme, she said. “And they don’t even have any calories,” she added.

The event represented a reunion of sorts for Mike Connolly. He was attending his first Great Pumpkin Carve as the CFHS’s executive director. However, he said he had visited previously as a spectator.

“I would like to know how many thousands of pounds of pumpkin are on that field,” he said as he surveyed the patch.

Connolly said he was enjoying the way in which the Great Pumpkin Carve brings people together and creates fond memories. “If you’re a carver, you’ve got stories, and if you’re a spectator, you’ve got them, too,” he said. “A lot of people have been coming for a long time. It really is a very cool event.”

Kate Raffa (right) and Anthony Gourdier demonstrate their 'super goop scooper.'

Kate Raffa (right) and Anthony Gourdier demonstrate their 'super goop scooper.'

And word is still spreading. First-time visitors Stephanie and Frank Duchacek from Kingsville, Md. were among the first to enter the patch on Thursday. Stephanie Duchacek said she read an article about the Great Pumpkin Carve in a gardening magazine and decided it sounded like fun.

“We have friends who live in West Chester,” she said, “and they told us to arrive early.”

This year the layout of the pumpkin patch was altered to improve traffic flow, said Connolly. And for the first time, the vote for the People’s Choice Award will occur on the society’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/185368475205063/. Connolly said photos would be posted sometime on Friday, Oct. 21, of all the entries so that the public can choose their favorite. The judges' selections are already displayed, and the People's Choice winner will be posted on Monday, Oct. 24.

Volunteer Gene Pisasale said he was excited about the new additions to the haunted trail, a favorite with kids. And based on the reaction of Melanie Rundatz’ three children – Marcus, 12, Faye, 10, and Isaac, 8 – Pisasale was not alone.

Marcus Rundatz noticed and liked the additions, both human and non-human, and his brother expressed interest in making another trek.

On the haunted trail at the Great Pumpkin Carve, it isn't always easy to discern who's human and who's not.

On the haunted trail at the Great Pumpkin Carve, it isn't always easy to discern who's human and who's not.

“We stole candy from the witch,” Isaac Rundatz said gleefully, acknowledging that Halloween is his favorite holiday. Needless to say, he was in the right place.

The pumpkins will be on display rain or shine on Friday, Oct. 21, from 5 to 9 p.m. and on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 3 to 9 p.m. In addition, there will be hayrides, live music, food and beverages along with selected arts and crafts.

Tickets, which are available at the gate, are $10 for adults, and $5 for children ages 7 to 17. Admission is free for CFHS members and children 6 and under. More information is available at http://www.greatpumpkincarve.com.

The Chadds Ford Historical Society is located at 1736 Creek Road in Chadds Ford, a short distance from Route 1. For more information, contact the society at 610-388-7376 or visit its website at www.chaddsfordhistory.org.To learn more about the winners, click here.

 

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